ARLINGTON, Texas — Garrett Richards pitched well again for the Red Sox on Sunday. But the righthander would have preferred to stay in the game for longer than what he called a “five and dive.”
The Texas Rangers worked long at-bats and Richards came out after 93 pitches over five innings. What was a 2-1 lead turned into a 5-3 loss for the Sox.
After a worrisome first four starts, Richards has allowed two runs over 12 innings in his last two and struck out 17 with only one walk. His earned run average has dropped from 6.48 to 4.40.
“We’re moving in the right direction. There’s still work to be done,” Richards said.
Richards adjusted his mechanics, both from the windup and out of the stretch, two starts ago, staying more upright and improving his forward momentum.
His release point has been more consistent as a result and his slider much sharper.
“My mind has just gone into a different mode as far as my mechanics go,” Richards said. “This new delivery that me and [pitching coach Dave Bush] have come up with has really gotten me back in the zone. I’m throwing a ton of strikes now.”
Swing and a miss
Through Saturday, major league players had struck out in 24.3 percent of their plate appearances this season, up from 23.4 percent in 2020 and 22.9 percent in 2019.
Strikeouts rates have climbed for eight consecutive years, a combination of advances in pitching and an increasing number of hitters taking an all-or-nothing approach.
Manager Alex Cora has worked on making the Sox more of a contact-hitting team. That they are fourth in the majors with a .324 on-base percentage suggests it’s working.
“As a baseball fan, it’s not fun,” Cora said. “You sit there, and you see walks and strikeouts and there’s no action, not too many balls put in play.”
Cora talked to J.D. Martinez a few days ago about how much the game has changed, particularly the quality of the pitching.
“The stuff they see on a daily basis is a lot better than the stuff we saw while I was playing,” Cora said. “The years that I played I never saw anything like this.
“There’s no 87-88 [miles per hour] anymore. The last guy on a staff either has a nasty secondary pitch or a plus fastball. The ball is doing stuff that I’ve never seen before . . . it’s a grind for hitters.”
Cora believes the root of the problem is with youth baseball and showcase events that reward players who hit home runs and throw as hard as they can at the expense of learning situational hitting or changing speeds as a pitcher.
“The game within the game is not played any more. It’s not,” Cora said. “I think we have to do a better job as an industry to promote contact and line drives.”
Brave new world
The four-game series at Globe Life Park drew 116,216 fans, including crowds of 35,129 on Saturday and 29,190 on Sunday.
“Good for them that they can do it,” Cora said. “The fans were into it.”
The retractable roof of the ballpark was closed for the first three games and while fans were encouraged to wear masks, only a small percentage did.
The state government in Texas lifted its COVID-19 restrictions in March.
“I hope they’re doing it right. I guess that’s the way you have to put it,” Cora said. “It’s just different here. If they feel that they’re OK doing it this way, good for them.
“Hopefully everybody can do it whenever the states and the people that know more about this virus and pandemic decide we can do that. That would be great.”
The Sox will move up to 25 percent of capacity at Fenway Park for their homestand starting May 11.
Xander Bogaerts’s home run in the fourth inning was his 118th as a shortstop. In team history, only Nomar Garciaparra (177) and Rico Petrocelli (127) have more . . . Franchy Cordero was 0 for 4 with a sacrifice. The left fielder is hitless in his last 24 at-bats and is 1 for 35 with 18 strikeouts in his last 13 games. He has a .406 OPS . . . After going 5 for 8 with two home runs, four walks and five RBIs in the first two games of the series, Martinez struck out twice and twice grounded into double plays with a runner on third . . . Texas native and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes attended the game wearing a Kansas City Royals jersey. Mahomes purchased a piece of the Royals in 2020. His father, Pat, pitched for the Red Sox from 1996-97 and for the Rangers in 2001 . . . In an awkward moment about two hours before the game, the sound system inside the park played “Hit Me Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears as some Red Sox players gathered in the dugout for a socially distanced chapel service.